When singer/songwriter Todrick Hall slid into his DMs asking him work on a music video, Daniel Chapman didn’t need to think twice about saying yes. We chatted to him about the whirlwind production of queer anthem ‘Queen’, shot in Ukraine just prior to the Russian invasion.
“I knew Todrick had been following my work for a while”
Todrick had actually slid into my DMs a few times previously, asking about wigs that I’d featured in some of my posts. But, due to scheduling conflicts, I’d never really had the chance to work with him.
This January, he sent me a message saying: “I’m just wondering what wigs you have available right now?” Because I like to create wigs just for fun in my own time, I let him know about a couple I had finished recently, some I was working on… and he just replied and saying “Oh my God – I want all of them! And really random… but would you be up for coming to Kyiv with me to work on something?”
“I had just days to prepare before flying into Ukraine”
Obviously I was keen to take Todrick up on the offer, but I thought the project would be kicking off in a few months and I’d have time to plan for it. He then mentioned that no, I’d need to fly out in five days!
I have a salon that I manage with my best friend, and so I rang her and explained that there was this opportunity. I said to her, “I don’t know if I can do it, the wigs need to be finished… I need to finish off my tax return!” She just turned round and said “Get yourself ready, this is a mad opportunity. You’ve got to seize the day!” So I messaged Todrick back and said “Let’s do it!”
We arranged everything over voice notes because he was in LA and I’m in Brighton, so there was obviously a massive time difference. I ended up sorting my own flights, for speed, and said we could sort the admin later. Looking back, it was so funny as I don’t have an agent or anything and I was literally going solo and relying on pure trust in Todrick!
Image: Todrick Hall, ‘Queen’ MV
“There were nerves, not just about my suitcases arriving, but about the situation on the ground”
My dad said to me before I left: “You know what’s going on out there, don’t you? And you know what it’s like being a queer person (in Ukraine) and you’re comfortable being in that environment?” I knew that was a concern in the back of their minds, but once I said that I was fine, they didn’t make a big thing about it.
There also wasn’t much of a conversation about it with Todrick and his team before I flew out. The video director (Roy Raz) is iconic and said that there were some stunning locations that we had to make use of – Ukraine is a beautiful country – plus he had worked with the production company out there before. It was nice to hear, as everyone was already conscious of what was brewing and what was going on, but the team’s attitude was ‘Nothing has happened yet. We can put money into this country and endorse its wonderful creatives.’
“I met the rest of the hair and make up team the day before the shoot.”
On my first morning in Ukraine, Todrick came to my hotel room and explained that, due to location issues, they’d had to extend the shoot for two days. It also meant that we’d now be shooting two music videos in the space of 48 hours! I told him that the situation definitely meant I’d need some assistants, and he reassured me they were planning to get three team members on board… but I’d only get to meet them the day before we began shooting.
Obviously I found myself in a situation where there were a few cultural differences – the assistants were Ukrainian and worked with a slightly different approach and to different timings. I found that the Ukrainians on the team were all so relaxed and laid back; they were really grounded, level headed and saw things for how they were. While the condensed timeframe wasn’t ideal, we figured we’d just roll with the punches, work late and get the job done. They were also assisting on both the hair and make-up teams, so they had a lot to do!
“Thirty dancers, multiple looks and the realities of life on location!”
On the plane, Todrick had pinpointed a wig I’d created for Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK star Bimini Bon Boulash as a look he’d like to replicate for the dancers in the video. It was the wig Bimini wore for the Prehistoric Eleganza runway towards the start of the season, and featured braids, finger waves and some sculptural elements. He added that the section of the video where the look would appear was set in a weird, out-of-this-world school setting. “Everyone is individual,” Todrick explained. “Although the look will be like Bimini’s, that’s just the foundation and they all need to be their own unique style.”
Whenever that’s the situation on a job, I always say that the key factor is to have a similar parting to tie the looks together. So that was my brief to the assistants – maintain that, and have a finger wave or a braid incorporated. I also like to have everything mirrored, playing with the idea of symmetry, but very odd symmetry.
However, trying to explain this to the assistants with a language barrier was a challenge! I began by describing it as slightly alien (but my version of an alien didn’t match their version of what an alien is!) and obviously nobody had watched UK Drag Race, so I had to bring up pictures of Bimini and then sketch out versions of all the looks.
We started filming at four o’clock in the morning the next day. The first look (Bimini-inspired) was on all thirty dancers and had to hold up structurally for the dance sequences. That was followed by a change of location where every single dancer had to have their hair taken down, made as flat as possible and put into this really tight head piece.
The final scene was all change again, with all dancers being transformed into punk kids. Obviously that required adding volume and texture back in, so I had to conceptually think about how to transition from look to look rapidly. It took us about two to three hours to get everyone ready, and I was then taking hair out – over thirty of us in this one bus – as we made our way to the next location, all the while there were massive amounts of snow!
“I absolutely love flexing my muscles when it comes to hair.”
For the second video, Todrick had flown out a house of dancers from the show Legendary to join us. Lots of them had dreads, and braids and all sorts going on, which – for any wig worker – is a major opportunity to showcase their skills. So we get set up, get all the hair out again, and because we had to do a punk scene the focus was placed more on this dramatic make-up.
It meant I had to work as fast as I could, taking these braids out, deconstructing the looks while trying to create something that’s different and unique to each one. The priority was on the dancers around Todrick, those who were going to be seen on camera most.
The dancers were just incredible; seeing how they, and Todrick, worked really changed my perception of what it is to be ‘professional’, how to manage yourself in situations. It started to get really late, one of the dancers was getting stressed because of the rush, the language barrier; Todrick listened to everything she had to say, and said “We need to finish this now, to get it done, but I understand.”
Image: Todrick Hall, ‘Pre-Madonna’ MV
I was floored – this man is not stressed, he is getting the job done. I’ll be taking that with me; when someone on your team is feeling off-kilter, you have to address that as the manager of that situation.
The last venue was this pitch-black warehouse with strobe lights, but you couldn’t see ANY of the dancers’ hair! Obviously it was just lost in communication. It was heart-wrenching, after all the stress to get them ready. I’d spent all this time worrying about the wigs, before I left, and they ended up being the simplest switches.
“This location is where he wore the orange wig, my baby!”
There’s always been this punky grit to everything I do, I love it. The juxtaposition of a look being pampered as hell, as well as punky, is just delicious to me. I’ve always loved finger waves, that classic style, and I have an obsession with embellishments. I had these studs and a created a finger wave on the side for them, and the other side I created a graduated bob, cut with a razor. It’s really a part of me: with the wig work, the embellishment side and the hairdressing on the other, it comes from my own personality.
I’d had that wig sat in the window of my salon for about a week, and had received so many compliments on it – so much so that I had to put it away! I knew the right moment would come… I manifested it!
“One of the biggest things about being a creative person in this world is that it’s universal”
After that already long day, we had to have a big conversation about the looks for the second music video. They wanted the majority of the dancers in the same look as that first video – the stress of realising I had to do them all again, and remember who had what! So all night I’m putting together Todrick’s wig, making finger wave extensions for the dancers in pink and yellow, having been up for 24 hours straight.
I felt really privileged, actually, to do the hair of one of the dancers for the second video who was one of the few people in Ukraine who openly use they/them pronouns. I always introduce myself and ask a client about their pronouns, and they seemed really touched. Todrick and myself were some of the first people they’d met, in a professional sense, to ever ask them their pronouns. The privilege of having that question asked of you here in the UK… you don’t realise until you’re away.
Because we’re doing such quick turnovers, trying to utilise all the time, while the dancers are being filmed I’m with Todrick, who’s laying down, trying to remove the hair glue and the wigs while the make-up artist is working from the chin up. We did everything we could to just get. it. DONE. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with him, dancing with these huge headpieces and wigs. Beyond talented.
Remember that all of this has happened in a 24-hour span – so much to process. Sewing in extensions to ponytails, dressing up dreads with chains, finger wave hairpieces and using dustings of hair with glue and gel… I was having to battle my muscle memory, because finger waving is so much easier on real hair than synthetic. I am a MASSIVE fan of Eco Gel Hair Gel, it’s a dream product, an old faithful that is incredible for finger waves.
The whole time I’m so aware that these aren’t just dancers, they’re voguers; spinning and diving, and I knew I had to make sure the looks were completely solid. Their hairography was just impeccable. Meanwhile, time is ticking, and even as I’m getting dancers ready I’m helping others get out of wigs and hairpieces who have to head to the airport to get back to Los Angeles.
“My Holy Grail”
The last look was this gold finger-waved wig. It was another piece I’d made previously, coated in gold metallic – it was spectacular. Todrick paired it with this amazing gold ballerina outfit, it looked like they were made for each other. What are the chances? They looked so harmonious.
When we got the call that we’d wrapped, everyone was so tired that there wasn’t even a cheer… but we did it. We finished about 6am and I had to be at the airport for 9am. I could barely see! In the moment it felt like there was a lot of stress, lots of things that felt frustrating, but you look back and know that something amazing was created. It was amazing to meet these incredibly talented people, to help create these identities and something so awesome.
Not getting to meet the dancers ahead of time, having no call sheet, was probably the most stressful part. Someone sits in your chair and you have to make a decision fast, while sticking to those factors that are going to stay the same throughout, while being something that works with that face, that hair type, the texture. It’s about trusting your ability to create.
Looking to the future, I have International Drag Race plus some exciting new bits at the salon… more wigs, more creations, balancing my international wig work with my community work in the salon.
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